Where Will Your Camera Take You?
Most photographers never really think about where their camera will take them. I can honestly say “my camera has taken me to places I never dreamed I’d ever go to.” When I make this statement, many readers may think I have traveled the world over and have been to exotic places. In some ways this is partially true, but you don’t have to go around the world to see amazing things and meet wonderful people. There may be an amazing place right up the street from where you live or amazing people in your community that you haven’t met yet.
My camera and my love of photography has taken me to places 10,000 miles away and it has taken me into the fields and forest behind my house. My wife is from Thailand and while my photography played a very small part in meeting her, it has played a huge roll in my life when I travel to Thailand. I can say without a doubt that there are places I would have never seen and people I would have never met if it wasn’t for the fact that I am a photographer. This sounds so prolific when you put the “10,000 miles away” statement in the paragraph. It makes me sound so worldly, I can also honestly make that same statement about the area where I live right here in the USA.
I live on the west side of New Jersey not for from the Delaware River that divides New Jersey & Pennsylvania. As my photography grew, I wanted more and more out of it. I didn’t want to just take photos of my dog anymore and I never was that great of a landscape photographer, however I did like product & food photography. I like my own product photography, I would sell stuff on eBay and I knew that the better the images of the product or item I was selling, the higher the bids would go. I sold everything on eBay from a postage stamp to a Caterpillar bulldozer. With that I was hired several times to photograph moderate to high dollar items such as antiques and cars.
Still I wanted much more from my photography. I would photograph events, just for the fun of it. Many times, I would be at a public event and think to myself “If not for photography, I would most likely not be at this event.” Some events I chose just because I wanted the challenge of photographing fast-moving things, so I would go to an airshow. Parades are always nice, but again I still wanted something more.
As my photography progressed, so did my editing skills. Learning Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom were a bit of a challenge at first, but like riding a bike it comes quickly if you keep at it. Around this time, I decided I really liked photographing people and I wanted to pursue it. I had always liked photographing people, however one day I sat thinking long and hard and came to the realization how much I liked it. The reason I had not pursued it I think was mostly due to lack of confidence and lack of equipment. One, being a mental thing and the other being obviously a money thing. So, I soon set off on a journey to acquire what I needed to photograph people. In time came better lenses and then onto building an arsenal of lighting equipment.
As for the confidence; it too came in an ebb & flow kind of way. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and “hey today I can photograph anybody.” I think what happened was, I realized I had the skill all along, all I needed to do was talk. I am not an “up front in your face kind of person” when I fist meet someone, however I found a long time ago that I have the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. It doesn’t matter really who it is, but I usually find something to talk about. This is nothing new of course, we have all heard or read that we can start a conversation if we can find a “common ground” topic. So, using my gift of talking to people I found photographing people easier to do if I could talk as I worked.
Shooting portraits is something I really like to do because for one, I can make money doing it and two, it is a way to network into other areas of photography. Think about how much easier is it to get a wedding gig when I have already met the person/s. Business headshots is another way to network and get some good commercial work. I love photography and I love it more when it makes me money.
So as time went on my photography allowed me to meet more people, some of which I have become very good friends with and other who have become regular customers over the years. As I look back at all the places, I have been just because of my knowing how to work a camera and edit a digital image is really amazing to me. I might add it is not all about working a camera and editing an image in Photoshop. Just take for instance an engagement shoot I did at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Now, I have done many engagement shoots and most times the couple wants to go to a rather quiet place, a somewhat peaceful place, but not these guys. The location is the Art Museum on a rather cold Saturday in January. It is a nice day, but cold and there is a lot of people and my job is to get good images of this couple and include the scenery of the outside of the museum all while not getting people into their photos. And if that is not bad enough there is not a cloud in the sky so the sunlight is as about as harsh as it gets. Also, I would guess about half the people walking around are also photographers on some level or another.
A little bit of a challenge it was. Just getting to the museum and parking was enough to make me want to go back home lol. Then there was the cold air and wind, the bright sunlight and all the people. All this is going on and at one point, for just a moment I think to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” If not for the money I was making I don’t think I would have any reason to hangout one the steps of the Philly Art Museum on a cold windy day in January. The images of that day turned out great, the couple loved them and they pay for the job was very good.
“Look where my camera has taken me today” is something I actually think to myself a lot. Sometimes I will say it out loud even if I am all alone. I think the first time I really thought about it and actually said it to myself was in 2012 while I was in Thailand at a Buddhist temple on top of a mountain. We had driven to a parking area located nearly at the top of the mountain. Then we walked and we walked, uphill of course. “Don’t stop walking now we’re almost there” said my wife’s niece. It is very hot and humid, and I am carrying 30 lbs. of camera gear and a tripod. I am dying as we reach the steps. As I reach the top step and walk through the gate, I feel this wonderfully strong breeze blowing through the doorway. So, I step into the shade of the round roof & walkway that surrounds the temple and I stay right there. The breeze was heavenly and I drink two bottles of water in a about a minute.
As I was cooling down, I was taking in the beauty of the temple grounds, with all the amazing flowers, trees and walkways. Under the circular roof there were an endless line of gold monk busts. Then I looked toward the temple itself and it was nine stories tall and still under construction. As I walked across the courtyard into the bright sun, I was anticipating the coolness I knew would be inside the temple. I take off my shoes quickly and enter and “yes” it is cool, a nice breeze is blowing through. But nothing like the breeze that was blowing at the gate.
Okay, so there are nine floors to this temple and I will photograph my way to the top. Sadly, the elevator was still not finished and I had to climb the steep stairs. Each floor was hotter than the previous and there was no more breeze. Also, I was on my last bottle of water. So, I did make it all the way to the top and out to the open balcony. The view was breathtaking, I could see for miles. There was a slight breeze, but there was also midday sun beating down. While at the top I did take photos of the view and of the family and then back inside. After heading down the stairs, floor by floor I made it to the second floor and it was cool enough that I just wanted to sit. As I was resting, I seen a very nice scene I wanted to photograph. I was sitting on the floor preparing the camera on the tripod and then I stopped and waited as people were moving though my scene.
During this waiting for people to move and me recovering from the heat is when it hit me. I sat there thinking to myself; “look at me… I am here on this mountain top at this beautiful temple… me a country boy from 10,000 miles away” and then I said to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” Sure, it was my wife’s idea to come to this temple, but only because she knew it would be an awesome place for me to photograph. If not for that reason I would have never been there. So, I just waited for the people to move and soon they did. I shot a series of HDR photos and moved on. But not before letting it really sink in that this camera, I am holding is really changing my life.
I have since returned to that temple once more on another trip to Thailand and I was better prepared. The second visit was well thought out and I annoyed the shit out of everybody traveling with me as I took my good ole time photographing all the stuff, I missed on the first trip lol.
Jimmy was dying and Charon wanted me to photograph the two of them together. Charon was a friend of mine who I had met on Facebook by way of her daughter who had done some amateur modeling. Charon had met Jimmy and they fell in love, I had never seen her so happy. I mean she was just so happy to have found Jimmy and he loved her too, they were an awesome couple. Charon said “I want you to shoot us, a couples shoot and it’s a paid gig, not a freebie.”
We all meet up at Smithville Park a very popular wedding and engagement shoot location in New Jersey. This was my first-time meeting Jimmy and he seemed a little “off.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he seemed just a little weird. Then Jimmy said he had just had brain surgery a week or so earlier. When Jimmy left to use the restroom, Charon told me the bad news. Jimmy had brain cancer and he only had a few months live, maybe more. I continued shooting and never missed a beat. We all kept joking and moving around to the different locations at the park. We had stopped at a gazebo, it was shady and cool, I could see Jimmy was tiring and Charon was getting a phone call. So, I stepped back and let them have some private time together while I looked through my camera at the images.
I was really hurting inside. I was hurting for Jimmy who I had just met, but more so I was hurting for Charon. She is such a wonderful human being and her fulltime job is taking care of dying people. She met Jimmy because she was caring for his dying mother. They met, they fell in love and now just months later Jimmy was dying… and I am photographing the last good day of his life. And it was at that moment I said to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” Not 10,000 miles away and not some exotic location, but to a place where I am capturing the end days of a man’s life with a woman he loves so much. After the job was done, I just sat in my car and after Charon & Jimmy left I cried.
I sat in the car just thinking about what had just happened. I was watching another couple with their photographer as she was photographing them in the park and thinking “they look just a happy as Jimmy & Charon, but I bet he’s not dying” and I laughed a little bit. I drove and got a cup of coffee to clear my head and then as I drove the hour or so back home, I ran though my mind all the places my camera had taken me. I thought about all the people I had met. It was one of those drives where I arrived at my driveway and don’t remember anything about the ride because my mind was so far away in thought.
Jimmy passed away four months later and left a hole in Charon’s heart that truly may never heal. I know they say “time heals all” and I truly believe that, but sometimes there are just not enough years in our life for time to do its good deed.
Sorry to end on such a sad note, but that is just how life is sometimes, that’s how it was for Jimmy & Charon.
Thanks for stopping by and reading.